How Can Technology Change the World? Ask a Student


10.5.11 | A novel concept—asking kids for their opinions about the future of education and their input on solving world problems—is being played out on a national and global scale. But school policy is often at odds with the best suggestions.

“Ever wondered what 10,000 young people could do to solve some of the world’s greatest problems?”

That’s the question Ewan McIntosh poses in this post on ITU Telecom World 11, a global conference taking place Oct. 24-27.

The event is organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency responsible for information and communication technologies. Teachers are invited to involve their classes in a dialogue on some of the world’s most pressing problems, via

“In the run up to the event, and during it, we’ll be showcasing the ideas of young people, aged 8-18, alongside the debates, panels and corridor discussions of these influential delegates,” writes McIntosh, continuing:

By October 24, we hope to have videos, photos, blogs and examples or prototypes of what young people believe might help solve challenges on their own doorstep. Sign up your class, school or district to begin sharing the ideas of your students. We want you to tell us how technology could be harnessed to:

* alleviate poverty and hunger
* improve education for all
* address gender inequality
* make sure everyone has access to health care
* protect our environment
* make disabled people’s lives easier
* close the gap between the developed and developing world

Each problem has its own wiki page with resources and ideas (though these still need some development). The framework for questions around education addresses issues of access and participation, including, “Where does your country stack up against other education systems in the world”; “How do youngsters learn when they’re in the middle of a war”; and, “If students without the internet are ‘disadvantaged in education’ then how could we get the web into every child’s hand?”

There’s also a video of street porter Katumi and her journey to get an education, and Sugata Mitra’s TED talk on self-supervised access to the web and child-driven learning. 

Meanwhile, over at the Huffington Post, Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, praises NBC’s Education Nation for concluding its three-day “conversation” on improving U.S. education with a session called Voices of a Generation: Students Speak Out.

Participants included high school and college students and a high school dropout working on a GED. Moderator Ann Curry posed the question, “If you could change one thing about education that would help more American young people learn, what would it be?”

“As I listened to their responses,” writes Galinsky, “it struck me that the their wishes echo the findings from numerous studies on children and learning. In fact, it seemed almost prophetic!”

In addition to specific requests (such as the return of arts, music and other activities eliminated from curriculums due to budget cutbacks), and more generalized wishes (greater community involvement in education and the inclusion of student voices all the time, not just in a national broadcast), a 22-year-old wished educators would bring more social media into classrooms, for today’s “new generation.”

Galinsky writes:

Beyond having more social media in the classroom—which a number of educators are experimenting with in very promising ways (see the MacArthur Foundation’s grantmaking on Digital Media and Learning for some great examples), I think there is a larger point in what this student is wishing—to have content more relevant to the interests of students and to have teaching styles that engage students in the ways that social media do.

And the research says…

Patricia Bauer of Emory University studies children and memory because as she puts it, “memory is at the center of the cognitive universe.” Without memory, there is no learning.

Bauer has been investigating why we remember some things and forget others? She and her colleagues have found that memories are better preserved and recalled under some circumstances than others. Children are more likely to recall their experiences when, for example: They have direct experiences rather than act as bystanders. Bauer notes:

“One of the things that we’ve found that helps babies to remember is being allowed to be engaged in the activity. This is true for adults as well. If we’re passive observers of something, we don’t have as strong a memory for it later on.”

Social media is providing direct, active experiential learning that engages children and aids in retaining what they have learned.

We’ve reported on great examples of this sort of direct engagement, many of which are dependent on the use of smartphones in learning environments.

But we seem to be a long ways off from the day when smartphones are embraced as learning tools—just take a look at this strict anti-phone policy at a Chicago-area high school, described by Eric Zorn. Violators are subject to after-school detention and their phones are confiscated for seven days. If a parent picks up the phone before the confiscation period is over, a five-day out of school suspension may be imposed.

The best response in the comments: “So wait, if a student uses a phone in a reasonable manner, outside of class and, say, during lunch, a teacher is allowed to steal their phone and keep it for 7 school days? This is pretty ridiculous in an age where so many use their phone for notes, calendars, organizations, calculators, etc. Does the school confiscate notebook computers as well?”

Better ask the students.

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